Passion and Prosecco
One of my favorite ways to start a conversation is to ask a trivia question, so here it is. We all take Prosecco for granted – if one wants to casually have a glass of wine with bubbles, Prosecco would handily beat any other sparkling wine as a top choice, no matter where in the world you are. Now, for the trivia part: do you know when Prosecco first appeared in London? I will give you few moments to ponder that question. Meanwhile, few basic facts: Prosecco hails from the hills of Veneto, where wines (still wines, it is) were produced for more than 500 years; Charmat-Martinotti method, used in the production of Prosecco, with the secondary fermentation taking place in a steel tank instead of the bottle (“secondary fermentation” is what produces those adorable bubbles), was first created in 1895. So when do you think Prosecco showed up in London?
The answer: 1989. And all due to the tenacity and passion. Bisol family had been producing the wine in Veneto for more than 20 generations (yes, I do call this a passion). When Gianluca Bisol approached his father and said that he wants to bring Prosecco to London, the father’s response was very quick (cue in Italian pronunciation and emotional hand gestures): “you are crazy!”. That didn’t stop Gianluca, and to London off he went. It appears that his father was almost right – selling unknown sparkling wine, door to door, in the downturn economic times, was not going swimmingly well, by any measure. Until a lucky coincidence (well, people would call it “luck”, but we all know that luck usually works best after applying lots and lots of hard, dedicated effort), when at one of the best restaurants in London, Gianluca met wine director who was not only Italian, but also born and raised in the same Veneto region, and was extremely happy to see his beloved Prosecco. As they like to say it in the books, the rest was history. Today, Prosecco outsells Champagne in UK 3 to 1. And annual production of Prosecco hit 540 million bottles in 2015. Just to finish with historical references, Prosecco made it to the US in 1992/1993 (in case you are wondering).
I had a pleasure of meeting Gianluca Bisol at lunch at Marta restaurant in the New York City, and we spend two hours talking, tasting wines and of course, eating tasty food (detailed account follows). This is where I heard the story of Prosecco concurring the UK, as well as many other interesting facts which all together can be summarized in one single word – passion. Passion for the land, vines and wines. Passion for the whole Veneto region. Passion for the traditions which are more than 20 generations strong. But also a passion for the not stopping, for continuing to innovate and to create – new wines and also new wineries.
Our tasting included 7 different wines, out of which 4 were Bisol wines, but 3 were from the winery called Maeli Colli Euganei, the winery which Gianluca helped to start in 2010. Actually the plan was that at the lunch, Gianluca will be joined by Elisa Dilavanzo, the owner of Maeli winery – unfortunately, Elisa got sick and had to stay behind, so Gianluca had a duty of representing both wineries – which he completed with flying honors, as you can imagine.
We started our tasting with 2014 Maeli Fior d’Arancio DOCG Sweet (6% ABV, SRP $27, Residual sugar 115 g/l, 100% Fior d’Arancia, a.k.a. Yellow Muscat) – nice sweetness, clean, minerality, beautiful sweet nose, bright white fruit, nice honey notes. The grapes for this wine come from volcanic soils, which gives it an interesting complexity, saving it from been “one singular note sweet bore”. It is not surprising that last year this wine was selected as “Best in Class” by Tom Stevenson in the UK in the sweet sparkling wines category. Another interesting fact is that in 2015, Maeli winery started Maeli Chef Cup competition, which will be now an annual event, where world-renown chefs compete to create the best dish pairing for Maeli Fior d’Arancia – if you are interested, here is the link detailing the 2015 competition.
Our next wine was NV Bisol Cartizze Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze D.O.C.G. Spumante Dry (11.5% ABV, SRP $42, Residual sugar 23 g/l, 100% Glera) – some sweetness on the nose, but body very restrained, creamy mouthfeel, delicious aftertaste, beautiful supple palate. The wine can age – Gianluca had an opportunity to taste 20 years old Bisol Cartizze wine – it retained bubbles, but obviously acquired aromas of more mature fruit. As you can see, this wine is designated as Superiore di Cartizze D.O.C.G – Cartizze is a single vineyard, 106 hectares (about 255 acres) in size , one of the best vineyards in Italy (most expensive for sure). 139 families own parcels of the Cartizze vineyard – Bisol family owns their parcel for 21 generations. The cost of land on Cartizze is $2.5M per hectare, or $1M per acre – not sure if anyone is selling though.
Time to eat something, right? The first two wines were paired with the selection of appetizers:
Suppli Cacio e Pepe (Risotto Croquettes, Pecorino, Black Pepper) – nice crust, tasty, works the best with the wine.
Bietole Ai Ferri (Plancha-seared Forono Beets, Ricotta, Hazelnuts) – good, nice flavor, good acidity, hazelnuts work well to complement the wines.
Nebrodini Arrostiti (Wood-fired Mushroom Salad, Kale, Mustard Greens, Thyme, Lemon) – nice, good flavor.
We continued our tasting with NV Bisol Crede Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. Spumante Brut (11.5% ABV, SRP $25, Residual sugar 7.5 g/l, blend of Glera, Pinot Bianco and Verdiso). “Crede” is a “type of clay-laden soil with particular characteristics that greatly benefit the grapes”, according to the wine’s tech sheet. The wine had delicious nose, touch of fruit, fine mousse, perfect acidity, crisp, clean finish.
Now we go back to Maeli with our next wine, which was also the only still wine we had in the tasting. 2014 Maeli Colli Euganei Bianco Infinito ∞ Veneto IGT (12.4% ABV, SRP $24, Yellow Muscat 60%, Chardonnay 40%, aged 5 month in steel tanks, 3 month in the bottle) had nice aromatics, touch of lemon on the nose, vanilla, nice complexity on the palate. The name of this wine (infinito) comes from the accident – one of the workers called Elisa to inform her that one of the barrels needs attention, and when she asked which one, he said “infinito”. As she couldn’t understand what the worker was talking about, it appeared that the number “8” was written on the barrel at an angle, and so from there on the wine took the name “infinito”.
Now, the dishes which were paired with these two wines deserve their own commendation. You see, I rarely eat pizza. When I do, my absolute preference is that the pizza would have crisp, crunchy, literally paper-thin crust. This is exactly what I got at Marta – three pizzas, one better than the other (Funghi was my absolute favorite):
Stracciatella (House-made Stracciatella, Basil, Olio Verde) – perfect pairing. Delicious pizza – very thin crust.
Funghi (Fontina, Mozzarella, Hen of the Woods, Hedgehogs, Red Onion, Thyme) incredible, amazing flavor mushrooms and thyme. Great pairing with Bianco Infinito
Porri e Pancetta (Leeks, Bacon, Fontina, Scallion) – great flavor, very good pairing.
Last three wines were truly special and unique – but none of them are available in the US at the moment, unfortunately. 2015 Private Cartizze Zero Dosage Brut Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze D.O.C.G. (second fermentation in the bottle, 12 month on the lees) – first Classic Method sparkling wine from Cartizze, 2015 vintage was bottled 45 days ago, 2011 was the first year of production, 3000 bottles produced in 2015 – classic champagne, yeast, outstanding.
Then we had 2011 Maeli Colli Euganei Rosévento IGT Spumante (12% ABV, Residual sugar 6.9 g/l, 100% Pinot Nero, 36 months on the lees) – another Classic method sparkling wine, yeasty, classic Rosè champagne nose with strawberries, delicious!
The last wine was truly unique – NV Jeio noSO2 Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Spumante Extra Brut (100% Glera) – this innovative wine was produced without any added sulphur dioxide (hence the name), made specially for the sensitive consumers. The wine is packaged in the clear bottle wrapped into the foil, to protect it from the sunlight (the wine we were tasting was brought by Gianluca directly from the winery, so it didn’t have any foil or labeling, except the small pieces of paper around the bottle’s neck. The wine had an amazing nose, floral with a touch of white fruit, very dry and again, floral on the palate – very unique compared to any sparkling wine I had before. Delicious – you need to try it for yourself (well, you might have to visit the winery for that).
Our last two dishes were Pollo Ubriaco (Chicken Breast, Charred Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, Fresno Chili, Mint), perfectly executed, and Salmerino (Arctic Char, Crispy Potato Cake, Horseradish Crema) – delicious, potato cakes were outstanding ( I would eat the whole plate alone), and the fish was cooked perfectly.
That’s all I have for you, my friends – a wonderful encounter with passion, great people, unique wines and delicious food. Next time you are in a mood for some bubbles in your glass, Bisol and Maeli offer a great range, suitable for any palate and taste. And even if you are not craving pizza right now, go visit Marta in New York – I’m sure you will be happy. And by the way, feel free to ask your friends if they know when Prosecco was first sold in London – you might become a party star, at least for one night. Cheers!
at Martha Washington hotel
29 E 29th St
New York, NY 10016